Some days ago I read a book about superstition* and besides various topics the author spoke about the Seelentier, the idea that man’s soul can assume the shape of a small animal. He cited PAULUS diaconus (Ger., Eng.). You may know the story, but I like it and repeat it here.
PAUL (ca. 720-799) writes a history of the Langobards, in fact it is The history of the long beards (Ger., Eng.), sadly no other direct sources of this interesting tribe survived. In book III chapter 34 he mentions a story about the Franconian king GUNTHRAM (Ger., Eng.) (ca. 532-592), that is not found in GREGORY of Tours’ (Ger., Eng.) (538-594) historia Francorum.
GUNTHRAM once went hunting in the forests, and all his entourage went in different directions and he was left alone with his most true companion. The king felt very tired and lay down putting his head between his companion’s knees, and slept deeply.
(“Is, cum venatum quodam tempore in silvam isset, et, ut adsolet fieri, hac illacque discurrentibus sociis, ipse cum uno fidelissimo tamen suo remansisset, gravissimo somno depressus, caput in genibus eiusdem fidelis sui reclinans, obdormivit.”)
Out of the sleeping king’s mouth came a small animal like a snake and it looked to find a way over the small creek nearby. The man, who watched over the sleeping king, took his sword out of the sheath, and lay it over the water and the small animal went over. It sneaked into the side of a nearby mountain; after some time it came back, went over the sword again, and slipped back into GUNTHRAM’s mouth.
(“De cuius ore parvum animal in modum reptilis egressum, tenuem rivulum, qui propter discurrebat, ut transire possit, satagere coepit. Tunc isdem in cuius gremio quiescebat spatam suam vagina exemptam super eundem rivulum posuit; super quam illud reptile, de quo diximus, ad partem aliam transmeavit. Quod cum non longe exinde in quoddam foramen montis ingressum fuisset, et post aliquantum spatii regressum super eandem spatam praefatum rivulum transmeasset, rursum in os Gunthramni, de quo exierat, introivit.”)
When GUNTHRAM awoke he told miraculous dream: In his sleep, he went over a river, on an iron bridge, into a mountain, and there he saw a large amount of gold. The man in whose lap the kind had slept, told what he had seen.
The place was dug up and a large quantity of very valuable golden things was found, that had been put there a long time ago. GUNTHRAM had made from this gold a massive ciborium (Ger., Eng.) with gemmae and stones, and he wanted it to be brought to Jerusalem. But because he could not do this, he finally had it installed over the body of the martyr Marcellus in Cabalonnum, where his residence was (Chalon-sur-Saône; Ger., Eng.).
(Latin text here, English here.)
PAUL calls the ciborium a marvellous work of art, still in place. Sadly in the 10th century it is gone without a trace.
GREGORY speaks of GUNTHRAM as the “good king”. The sixth century sees a lot of Merovingian (Ger., Eng.) infight (Ger. only), and I find it a bit difficult to understand the rather complicated family circumstances: There are sons and daughters of the third morganatic marriage (avant la lettre I know, but how should I call it?), and some very doubtful characters among them. They were a strange bunch, Franconians yes, but if someone would come up with the time-machine I’d prefer KARL’s court any time. GUNTHRAM is described as a reasonable and peaceful man. He has no children and heirs, his four sons all die before him; he is worshipped as Saint, not only locally but even in Utrecht and Cologne.
The history of the sixth and the following centuries is the time of the heroes, when a lot of the things happened that later will be sung about in the epic Heldenlied and other forms of poetry – interestingly KARL der Grosse (at least according to his biographer EINHARD) started to collect them. It was the time when a knight was still a knight, and a dent in his armour was seen as proof of his Ritterlichkeit. Stupid things like writing were a job for monks, gold and silver were to be thrown out and squandered, kiss the king’s ring and all will be good. Enviable.
* Meyer, Carl [das ist: Karl Remigius Meyer]: Der Aberglaube des Mittelalters und der nächstfolgenden Jahrhunderte, Basel 1884